Just four years from now, millennials will make up almost half of the global workforce. This isn’t exactly breaking news for business leaders or HR departments, who have been scrambling for several years to understand what this generational shift means for the workplace.
While businesses were trying to get a handle on what the future workplace will look like, experts and media headlines attributed millennials with “the death of the workplace” and offered advice about how to manage this mysterious new generation.
Let’s face it: We got a little carried away.
A YouTube comedy skit that “shows managers how to deal with millennials in the workplace” has upwards of 1.7 million views. CBS is piloting a “millennial workplace comedy” about a guy in his 40s who’s forced to take a job “surrounded by a team of millennials who view him as an exotic and ancient oddity.”
Recently, news headlines have started to calm down a bit as people realize that millennials want a lot of the same things out of their jobs as everyone else. They want to make an impact where they’re working, while still maintaining a work-life balance. They want opportunities to get better at what they do.
But many companies are still running into hurdles when it comes to building a happy workforce that includes a heavy concentration of millennials. One workforce survey showed that the majority (53%) of hiring managers report difficulty finding and retaining millennial talent.
If that sounds familiar, you might want to take a good, hard look at one key area of your business: workplace technology.
The way millennials use technology is what really sets them apart from other generations. They’re comfortable using technology because they’ve grown up with it, and because it’s always been available to them, they’re used to having instant access to whatever information they want and staying connected to the outside world no matter where they are. And they expect that to be the norm with their worklife.
Seth Mattison, an expert on workforce trends and generational dynamics, summed it up nicely: “We now have a whole generation of youth that has been the chief technology officer in their homes for the last decade.”
“Millennials have grown up with unprecedented access to information and people across long distances and boundaries,” he added.
So it’s not surprising that technology is as important to millennials at work as it is in their personal lives. In fact, 41% prefer digital communication at work rather than face-to-face conversations or even phone calls.
According to a report titled Millennials at Work, 59% of the millennials surveyed said that employer-provisioned, state-of-the art technology was important to them when considering a job. And nearly half of those questioned felt that their use of technology was not always understood. Some felt held back by outdated and rigid work styles.
So how can you address these issues in your own office?
In a culture where 37% of workers telecommute at least part of the time, it’s critical for employees to be able to easily and effectively connect with coworkers who are working from someplace other than the office. Conference calls by phone are better for communication than email or messaging, for certain situations. But it’s even better with videoconferencing, when you can see the people you’re talking to. The conversation flows more smoothly and there’s less chance for misunderstanding because visual cues count for a lot in conversation.
2. Collaborative Content
How do your employees store and access the content they need to do their jobs, whether that’s presentations, manuals or marketing materials? Is it scattered among various managers’ hard drives, or trapped in an archaic intranet system that can’t be accessed from workers’ homes or mobile devices? That’s not going to fly with millennials, who are used to being able to instantly connect, engage and collaborate. Check out cloud-based file storage platforms like Box and Dropbox, project management solutions such as Trello and Basecamp, and internal content management systems like MyHub and Bloomfire.
3. Meeting Scheduling and Conference Room Reservation Software
If your company is still using Excel and paper signs as its conference room management system, consider implementing a company-wide shared calendar and a conference room reservation software solution that integrates with that calendar. It’ll cut in half the time your employees spend scheduling meetings and stop grumblings along the lines of “He stole my conference room” or “I can never get a room for my meetings.”
Millennials aren’t the only workers who will benefit when you implement modern communications technology at your company. All employees should be more productive when they have access to tools that let them work from anywhere, be more efficient at collaborating, and communicate better with their coworkers.
Given that only 27% of American employees have access to the latest technology in the workplace, according to Oxford Economics’ Workforce 2020 report, offering a well-thought-out digital workplace may make the difference between that energetic, innovative job candidate accepting your offer or turning it down.
After all, people from other generations also get excited about new technology and a flexible workplace. A Nielsen study of who uses technology during meals found that Baby Boomers were more guilty of the behavior: 52% of them started at their devices while eating, vs. 45% for Gen Xers and 38% of people aged 15 to 20.
Being comfortable with technology may just be a matter of opportunity vs. a generational trait. As one AdWeek writer recently pointed out, flexwork and mobility simply weren’t options for previous generations:
“And don’t tell me about how ‘we’ didn’t get to mix business with pleasure. Fact is we mostly couldn’t. If we were lucky enough to have a computer, we didn’t have email yet. And if we had a phone on our desk, it didn’t dial long distance unless we punched in a code … Let’s face it, when we went to work, we were stuck there.”
EventBoard co-founder and CTO Zach Holmquist also believes that there’s more behind changing workforce trends than just millennials’ preferences.
“It’s truly mobility and just the internet,” he says. “Why would we fax, why would we have paper? I get that we like to blame millennials, but mobility is the bigger driver of disruption.”
“Ultimately, it’s about the static workplace vs. a mobile workplace. What does that mean for us as a company, and for every other company? What does a static workplace look like? A dynamic workplace? What tools cause them to survive and fail?”